Influencer marketing has been on the upswing for years, defying predictions that it’s yet another digital marketing fad. Although the pandemic reshuffled the space and sorted some clear winners and losers, expansion remained the name of the game in 2020 and 2021.
Actually, that’s an understatement. According to a Business Insider report on the state of the influencer marketing industry, a staggering 96% of U.S. and U.K. consumers said they were engaging with influencers “more or to the same extent” as before the pandemic hit.
Bottom line: If your brand hasn’t yet embraced influencer marketing’s potential, there’s still time to do so.
Of course, you’ll want to do it right the first time. Follow these six tips for starting an influencer marketing program from the ground up.
1. Get Explicit Consent From Every Influencer You Work With
Do not repurpose influencer content without first getting the creator’s explicit consent.
Repeat: Do not repurpose influencer content without first getting the creator’s explicit consent.
If this isn’t the golden rule of influencer marketing, it’s close. And it doesn’t have to be super legalistic. In its guide to influencer marketing, digital marketing expert Hawke Media encourages brands to get written consent via DM. Said consent can be as concise as “Yes, you can use my IG post,” the firm says.
An Insta DM is likely to be your influencers’ preferred mode of communication anyway, at least initially. Sending a multipage contract PDF by email on your very first contact attempt might technically meet the definition of striking while the iron is hot, but it could also scare off potential partners. You can work through the legalese later; early on, it’s more important to establish rapport.
2. Standardize Your Influencer Marketing Relationships and Contracts
About that legalese.
You don’t need to treat your influencers like employees. That could actually backfire. Influencers are creatives above all else. Many chafe at creative direction from people who (they believe) don’t really understand what they do.
But you do need to hold your influencers to their end of the bargain. Whatever arrangement you reach with them, you have every right to make sure they follow through.
Standardization is the word of the day here. If you’re set on using formal, attorney-created contracts to manage these relationships, great — have your attorney include standard clauses that can be customized to fit the no-doubt-unique nature of the arrangement.
If you (and your influencers) prefer to keep things casual, that’s fine too. But you still need to hold every influencer you work with to the same set of measurable benchmarks and define their deliverables the same way every time, even if you’re communicating this information in the body of an email or DM.
3. Don’t Work With Influencers Who Want to Skirt Disclosure Regulations
Read the Federal Trade Commission’s influencer marketing guidelines. Then read them again.
Then learn to love them.
You should love the FTC’s influencer marketing guidelines. They bring order and predictability to the new-ish and often very casual influencer marketing business. And they keep its practitioners, influencers and brands alike, on the right side of the law.
Make a point never to work with influencers who think they’re better than these regulations. We all love mold-breaking personalities, but no influencer is worth a federal fine.
4. Add Team Members Who Really Understand Influencer Marketing
Yes, these team members can be reformed influencers themselves. That’s encouraged, in fact. Not necessary, but encouraged.
What you don’t want is a bunch of people who know nothing about influencer marketing running point on a high-stakes campaign. Your in-house influencer liaisons should know how to communicate with influencers, how to assess their work, and ultimately whether any given relationship is worth the resources it requires.
5. Know Who You’re Trying to Reach Before You Get Started
Know thy audience.
Again, maybe not the golden rule of influencer marketing. But pretty darn important.
Influencer marketing is all about engagement. Your influencers are ambassadors for your brand. Like all seasoned diplomats, they know how to work a room and generate meaningful responses.
But, to be effective, they need to work the right rooms. All the talent in the world won’t convert audiences that don’t want to be converted — or that don’t much care for the messenger.
It falls to you to find and segment target audiences for your influencer marketing, then find the right influencers for those audiences. You need to do this before you make first contact with any influencers at all. Otherwise, you might end up wasting both parties’ time.
6. Focus on Relevance, Not Follower Count
From a 30,000-foot perspective, influencers’ value does increase in rough proportion to their follower count. But focusing only on follower count is a recipe for unsatisfying and ultimately not-very-valuable influencer relationships.
Follower quality is far more important than follower quantity. And “quality” here is very broadly defined, covering not just engagement-adjacent metrics but basic demographic information as well. To take one obvious example, you don’t want to work with an influencer whose followers largely reside in a national market your brand doesn’t serve, no matter how much engagement they generate there.
It goes without saying that you want to make sure your would-be influencer partners’ followers aren’t figments of the digital imagination. Influencer Marketing Hub has more on spotting fake followers and avoiding tie-ups with influencers who can’t bring living, breathing engagement to the party.
It’s Not Too Late to Join the Influencer Marketing Game
Influencer marketing is not the flavor of the week. It’s here to stay. And it’s getting bigger every year.
What does that mean for brands that haven’t yet hopped on the influencer marketing train? Brands that — admit it — have been waiting, even hoping, for the fad to fade?
It means there’s still time for them to take advantage of the phenomenon. As the social media pie grows larger, the pool of influencers looking to carve out their very own slice gets bigger too. All the more opportunity for brands seeking a toehold in this exciting space.
Even so, it’s better to get in now. Because while influencer marketing is here to stay, the early arrivals are more likely to get bigger slices of the pie. And maybe seconds, if they’re lucky.